I find winemaking and cheesemaking completely fascinating, awestruck by the thousands of different wines and cheeses produced from, in essence, one raw ingredient – grape juice or milk. The production varies, as does the terroir, climate and skill of the producer but the variety of the end product is staggering.
A trip to Italy, the Emilia-Romagna region, had to include a visit to a dairy making Parmigiano Reggiano, but I really wanted to see something small where I would have chance to learn about the whole process. Enter Helena from True Yummy Italy, a native English speaker who has been living and working in the region for several years. Helena organises small group or individual tours to a range of artisan producers who she has built personal relationships with.
We met Helena at the dairy high in the hills above Modena and began a private visit to the tiny Rosola dairy in Zocca. Milk was being delivered as we arrived, but the cheesemakers, just the two of them, were already working.
Making Parmigiano is a complicated process that is strictly controlled by the consortium to maintain standards and the value of the cheese. Only cheeses that comply receive the DOP label. One interesting requirement is that the cows aren't fed any fermented fodder such as silage, just grass and hay. If fermented fodder was used, an extra enzyme would be needed in the cheesemaking process. Rosola produces organic Parmigiano from the rare Modenese white cow, amongst others. Only six cheeses are produced in a day, each requiring 1100 litres of milk to yield two 45kg cheeses. Milk from the evening milking is skimmed and mixed with the full fat milk from the morning milking, then rennet is added and the milk is heated in copper vats to a temperature around 55℃. The process at Rosola relies entirely on the skill and experience of the cheesemaker – no temperature probes, gauges or print-outs, just feel. Equally, no chemicals are used in the dairy, cleaning being done with the whey, which has natural antiseptic properties, and steam.